The Kansas City Star had a great story a couple of weeks ago out of its Washington, D.C., bureau about a couple of million federal dollars that went to an inner-city religious ministry by means of the infamous earmarking system on Capitol Hill. Earmarking stories are hugely important because what are pennies to federal appropriators are big bucks to those on the receiving end. This story is especially interesting because of the obvious separation of church and state issues that the earmarking practice raises:
On the surface, the taxpayer-supported appropriations for World Impact Inc. raise constitutional questions about the separation of church and state.
"Are we using the state to fund the church?" asked Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based nonpartisan group that scrutinizes federal spending.
Lawmakers, in general, say such earmarks help meet social needs.
Brownback, a Kansas Republican, and Bond, a Missouri Republican, notes that World Impact does a lot of good for the urban poor in the region, with wanting to create an outreach and education center in St. Louis and running a ranch in central Kansas that is used as a "Christian training center for inner-city young men ages 18-25."
This is not a new story. Religious groups have been receiving federal funds for years and only rarely does anyone make a fuss over the practice. Howard Friedman over at the Religion Clause blog points to a May 2007 article by The New York Times stating that since 1989, Congress granted nearly 900 earmarks for religious organizations worth more than $318 million. More than 50 percent of those earmarks were appropriated during the 2004 presidential election season. I also seem to remember that election as being a particularly influential year for religious voters. Could this be a case where reporters should follow the money?
The Star story about $2 million in federal earmarks would be fairly mundane and old news by Washington standards except for President Bush's recent vow to clean up the federal earmarking process. As Friedman notes, Bush issued an Executive Order last week barring federal agencies from giving out the money that is listed in committee reports unless they have an objectively good reason to do so.
A good follow up to this Star report would be too look at what earmarks directed at religious groups may end up being scrapped because of Bush's executive order.
It was just a week ago that former White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives officials David Kuo and John DiIulio wrote an op-ed in The New York Times claiming that Bush has not delivered on his promises to open up the federal budget to religious organizations helping the poor and needy. Will this executive order further limit the amount of federal dollars going to religious groups?